TUESDAY, Dec. 4 (HealthDay News) -- Heartburn can usually be diagnosed and managed without the use of an invasive procedure called an upper endoscopy, according to new recommendations for doctors.
Many physicians perform upper endoscopies to screen people who have had long-term heartburn for cancer of the esophagus because heartburn, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), can raise the risk of this cancer.
Upper endoscopy involves placing a long, flexible tube down the throat that takes pictures of the esophagus, stomach and other parts of the gastrointestinal tract.
The new guidelines by the American College of Physicians (ACP) recommend against screening the general population with GERD this way, partly because the cancer is rare even in this at-risk group.
"It's an area of uncertainty if screening prevents death from cancer," said guidelines author Dr. Nicholas Shaheen, director of the Center for Esophageal Diseases and Swallowing at the University of North Carolina.
Although the ACP guidelines are similar to those of organizations such as the American Gastroenterological Association, they stand apart for specifically recommending against screening women with GERD for esophageal cancer.
However, the ACP guidelines do recommend screening men over 50 who have had GERD for more than five years and who have other risk factors for esophageal cancer, including smoking and being overweight, because this group faces elevated esophageal cancer risk.
"Even if you came to me the first time and fit that profile, we might talk to you about a screening endoscopy," Shaheen said.
"The hope is that if you bring patients in that have risk factors for cancer, we can find cancer in precancerous state and intervene then. Survival is very poor once you get to the late stage of this cancer," Shaheen said.
The guidelines, based on a review of curr
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